A jogger runs past a low-slung building with an arched roof along Alcatraz Avenue in South Berkeley.
The city’s plan to navigate a shortfall from the infrastructure bond Measure T1 preserves funding for a planned African-American Holistic Resource Center in South Berkeley. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Berkeley will address a $9.1 million shortfall from the bond Measure T1 without making the most painful cuts that had been on the table for projects improving streets, parks and other public facilities.

The City Council approved a plan Tuesday that calls for Berkeley to pull $4.1 million from a fund set aside to pay worker’s compensation claims by city employees, which has been running at a surplus, to help address the shortfall.

And the city will trim some of the projects it had planned to pay for with the $100 million bond voters passed in 2016. Work to repave Hopkins Street will be delayed as the council redirected $2.8 million from that project, and a plan to install solar panels on the roof of the North Berkeley Senior Center has been cut from the bond; the city will also reduce funding for new security cameras and a planned renovation of a Northwest Berkeley fire station.

But the spending plan, which the council unanimously endorsed, preserves funding for several projects that city officials warned could have been on the chopping block, including a health and community resource center for Black residents, permanent restrooms at two popular West Berkeley parks and new lighting on the Ohlone Greenway.

Some councilmembers said the plan for addressing the shortfall — which public works staff said resulted from rising construction costs and unforeseen expenses on several projects — gave them pause because it relied on the worker’s compensation fund. City staff cautioned against the move in materials submitted to the council, writing that although the fund’s balance was well ahead of expenses now, it has been in the red as recently as 2021, and the city is facing hundreds of outstanding claims.

“It doesn’t seem to be good practice to me — it’s not something I want to make a habit of doing,” Councilmember Terry Taplin said in an interview after the vote. But Taplin added that he voted for the funding plan because “we owe it to the city and residents to deliver these projects.”

Councilmember Kate Harrison said she was confident in the move, describing the worker’s compensation fund as “very healthy.”

“I want the public to know, as we use this money … that we are doing a fiscally responsible thing,” Harrison said Tuesday night. “I don’t want any impression left that we’re not, because we are.”

City will fund resource center

Community groups have spent years advocating for the plan to build an African-American Holistic Resource Center in South Berkeley, which is envisioned as a home for future educational, health and youth programming, among other uses. Berkeley has received $2 million in federal and county funding toward the project.

Plans for the center have proven more expensive than anticipated, though, after officials found “significant structural problems” with the city-owned building at 1890 Alcatraz Ave. that was envisioned as its home. The City Council had to decide whether to direct public works staff to attempt to renovate the building or demolish it and build a new center in its place, and whether it should be 4,000 or 6,000 square feet.

Supporters of the center who turned out for Tuesday’s meeting said they were concerned the city could cut its funding because of the shortfall.

“The worker’s comp fund is healthy, but the Black community is not,” housing counselor and local activist Moni Law told the council on Tuesday. “Please fully fund it now, and keep your promises.”

The plan adopted by the council follows recommendations from the initiative’s supporters, and calls for building a new 6,000-square-foot center.

Hopkins paving delayed

It’s unclear when Hopkins Street could be repaved or when the proposal to build a new protected bike lane on the street — which sparked an intense years-long debate — might move forward following the council’s action.

Berkeley had planned to put $6.75 million from Measure T1 toward an $11.5 million project repaving the street, adding the protected bike lane and making several pedestrian safety improvements. That work was supposed to break ground this summer.

The street’s future had been cloudy long before Tuesday’s vote to redirect some of that funding, however: City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley put the redesign proposal on hold in April, citing a staffing shortage in Berkeley’s Transportation Division and several concerns about the plan. The division’s longtime leader, Farid Javandel, left his position in May for reasons that remain unclear, though Berkeleyside obtained records showing the city had launched a lengthy investigation into how the division’s staff handled the Hopkins project. And the city had already solicited bids for this year’s repaving projects, without including Hopkins.

Harrison said the city could potentially move forward with pedestrian safety improvements along Hopkins this year, such as new raised crosswalks.

Meanwhile, the next decision about repaving work on the street will come this fall, when the City Council decides whether, and when, to include Hopkins in Berkeley’s five-year paving plan.

“I want this street to be paved — I want it to have bike and pedestrian infrastructure too. I still believe in that,” Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who represents part of Hopkins, said Tuesday. “I commit to doing that in the future, but we are not able to do it right now because of staff vacancies.”

Still, the delay was frustrating for Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who also represents the street and said plans to repave Hopkins have been similarly pushed back in the past.

“This neighborhood and this street have had to wait and wait and wait,” Hahn said, “so there is no special treatment here, this is long overdue.”

Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...